The Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled a virtual cannabis legalization hearing. It will be Monday, February 15th at noon to address the long-standing impasse.
Monday is President’s Day, which the New Jersey Legislature apparently does not observe.
“Testimony from invited guests and the public on deterring minors and young adults from obtaining and using lawful cannabis items intended for adults over 21 years of age and decriminalized marijuana, as proposed in recently passed bills,” is the description on the legislature’s website.
New Jersey Legalization Issues
There is no bill number yet for the cannabis bill, much less actual text on the bill to read. That hasn’t stopped legislators in the past from scheduling hearings and then released the bill text very shortly before.
No bill is scheduled for a cannabis hearing in the New Jersey Legislature until the votes are secured for passage. Thus it usually makes committee hearings and debates on the floor a show. For example, the cannabis bill was pulled in spring 2019 from a vote in the State Senate. It was due to the lack of support before the Senate convened.
The scheduling of a hearing should likely be taken as a good sign. However, as the date gets closer and they don’t have the votes, the cannabis hearing can always be canceled.
Two weeks ago, the Assembly Community Development and Affairs Committee passed a second cannabis compromise bill. It was sponsored by Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly (D-Passaic) and passed during a cannabis hearing. That bill reduced the penalties crafted in the first clean-up bill passed the first week of January. But it ultimately failed. The new bill would impose a $50 to 100 dollar fine on those 18-20 caught with possession.
The New Jersey Assembly canceled its quorum, so Governor Phil Murphy was not forced to veto the bill or have it become law automatically since it has been more than 45 days since the enabling and decriminalization bills passed on December 17th. He also did not want to conditionally veto an issue he previously championed. Moreover, the legislature has not been eager for that to happen either.
The new deadline that has been imposed on the endless cannabis negotiations is February 18th, when the State Senate and Assembly are expected to convene next.
Cannabis Hearing Issues
There has been an impasse to deal with the Governor’s dislike of the lack of possession penalties for those who are under 21.
Minority legislators did not like the first clean-up bill’s “stationhouse adjustment” provisions. They argued that it was the first step down a path to a life as a felon.
There has also been an impasse because of the hostility between Murphy and Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester), which has led them to play a game of chicken with legalization.